Critic’s Choice for the week of June 20-27, 2007

This week, we recommend indie-rock cetaceans, a reggae campout, wild punks, a classical b-day, N'awlins dancing, Norah Jones, and more.

New Old-Time Country

When the Decemberists sang We are two mariners, our ship’s sole survivors in this belly of a whale, they probably didn’t realize it had anything to do with San Francisco septet Or, the Whale. Both groups douse contemporary chamber pop in an old-timey sepia bath, yet “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” comes out reeking of such English-major pomposity that it renders Or, the Whale’s countrified take positively charming. This holds true across the band’s May debut, Light Poles and Pines, and is bound to continue at its Starry Plough gig. Friday, June 22, with bluegrass outfit Stiff Dead Cat and Oakland guitarist Joe Rut. 9:30 p.m., $7. (Nate Seltenrich)

Reggae Road Trip

It’s summer festival season once again, and this weekend’s Sierra Nevada World Music Festival provides an opportunity for an adventure without even leaving Northern California. This year’s festival takes place at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, so getting there is half the fun, but only half. Bring grills, tents, coolers, and sunscreen and prepare yourself for a truly world-class lineup. Each day is stocked with classic artists and contemporary global pop stars, and though the bill is heavy with roots reggae, Brazilian, African, French, Mexican, and Spanish acts balance out the vibes well. Headliners include Toots & the Maytals, Bunny Wailer, Sugar Minott, Derrick Morgan, Markus James, and Ojos de Brujo, but don’t sleep on the undercard, which features a nice range of worldly rhythms from Afro-Euro duo Les Nubians, Mexican reggae folksters Rastrillos, flamenco/son specialists LoCura, Ghanaian music and dance ensemble Kusun, South American superstar Carlinhos Brown, and numerous others. Think of it as a mini-vacation just three hours north. Friday through Sunday June 22-24. $50-$125, single-day and festival passes available. Visit for tickets, camping info, and a complete lineup. (Eric K. Arnold)

Piano Contrarian

Even though Norah Jones‘ latest artistic statement was a cinematic lip-lock with Jude Law in Wong Kar-Wai’s My Blueberry Nights, which also opened this year’s Cannes Film Festival, she hasn’t given up her day job. Not Too Late, the Brooklynite’s third album, came out earlier this year amid claims that Jones was distancing herself from the coffeehouse jazz sound that made her 2002 debut Come Away with Me a breakout smash. The stripped-down approach that yielded the Catch a Thrill-era Steely Dan vibe of “Thinking About You” and hurdy-gurdy dirge “Sinkin’ Soon” reflects some of the other creative flavors the pianist is using on her latest outing. Chalk it up to dalliances with country music by way of side group the Little Willies, or Jones’ decision to record in a home studio with bassist boyfriend Lee Alexander for this looser vibe, but it’s all been for the betterment of a young talent refusing to be typecast. Further bolstering this rootsy stylistic turn are reports that opening act/lo-fi alt-folkie M. Ward has been regularly joining Jones onstage for a run through her rollicking “Creepin’ In.” Saturday, June 23 at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theatre. 8 p.m., $59.50 (reserved seating), $45 (lawn seats). (Dave Gil de Rubio)

Centennial Pleasures

Berkeley’s St. John’s Presbyterian Church celebrates its hundredth anniversary this weekend with a special, artist-rich Centennial Concert. Foremost among the pleasures is superb soprano Christine Brandes, who should sound heavenly in Mozart’s beautiful Laudate Dominum. William Bennett, principal oboist of the San Francisco Symphony, lets down his hair by performing jazz standards by Ellington, Armstrong, and Gershwin in addition to a Cimarosa Oboe Concerto. Add in Leon Chisholm playing Handel’s fourth Organ Concerto, and J. Karla Lemon conducting the premiere of Brian Mountford’s Mr. Siegel Songbook (set to poems about innocence and war), and you’ll know why I’ll be in the audience. Saturday, June 23, 4 p.m. $20, $10. Info: 510-845-6830 or (Jason Victor Serinus)

Tastes Like Children

Paying homage to a delectable fast-food item is just the tip of the iceberg for freak-folk rockers Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children McNuggets. After all, the band’s MySpace slogan is “Putting the ‘OM’ in forcible sodomy,” and their influences includes Frank Zappa, Michael Jackson, and “aw, hell, everyone from ‘We Are the World.'” The Children McNuggets actually broke up in 2000 but they often reunite for special occasions —for instance, when people die or get their limbs torn off in car accidents. On Sunday, they emerge from the dust once again, this time to benefit the new Thrillhouse record label launched by singer Fred Shrung of the dirgy punk band Robocop 3, which also performs. This nostalgia-based showcase features mostly old-timers (i.e., bands who thrived in the days of cassette-only releases), including the bruising punk band the Fleshies, whose frontman, Johnny No Moniker, used to sing backup for the McNuggets. Also on the bill are all-girl power trio Hey Girl! and the Skirtheads. The 5 p.m. show costs $5. 924 (Rachel Swan)

Cajuns Go Wild

Yoshi’s new Monday Night Dancing series kicks off with Louisiana zydeco singer-accordionist Geno Delafose and his French Rockin’ Boogie band. Delafose’s Creole dance music combines Cajun waltzes and two-steps with New Orleans blues and R&B, an update of his acclaimed father John Delafose’s more rootsy style. The PBS documentary River of Song declared Geno “a standard-bearer for traditional zydeco … and he has proved himself one of the most versatile musicians in South Louisiana.” Monday, June 25, at 8 p.m. ($16) and 10 p.m. ($10). (Larry Kelp)

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